Students in University High School’s marching band are savoring the opportunity to put Orange City and their school in the global limelight, by performing in the London New Year’s Day Parade.
If all goes well, and if the students, their parents and other supporters can raise the money for the trip, some 100 members of the band known as the Titan Regiment will join a host of other units forming the procession to welcome 2024. UHS Band Director Jarrod Koskoski and his student musicians are looking forward to the trip across the big pond.
“This is not one of those destinations where you can go when you want to go. They have to invite you,” Koskoski told The Beacon. “We received the invitation. I shared with the parents what it would entail.”
What the trip entails is amassing approximately $354,000 for the round trip to England, plus lodging, meals and sightseeing.
Koskoski said this is the first time the UHS band has been invited to travel outside the U.S. to perform.
“They want to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We’re halfway around the world,” Koskoski said, adding the band will perform in Westminster, the borough that is London’s prime downtown district. “Westminster is where the parade takes place. We’re going to Buckingham Palace. We’re going to 10 Downing Street [home address of the prime ministers]. We’ll play in front of Big Ben.”
The annual event was co-founded by a Londoner named Bob Bone, he said, with the support of the Lord Mayor of Westminster. Koskoski said he met both men when they visited Orlando earlier this year to extend a formal invitation to University High School’s band to come to London for the parade.
“Once I responded to them, they flew over to Orlando. Bone and Duncan Sandys, the former Lord Mayor of Westminister — and he’s a grandson of Winston Churchill — they made a formal presentation,” Koskoski added.
Koskoski himself also flew to England in June, he said, to talk further about plans for the UHS band to travel there.
“We had dinner with the Speaker of the House of Commons. They are behind this parade 100 percent,” Koskoski said. “This is the 38th annual London New Year’s Day Parade.”
The Titans may likely have the rare chance, Koskoski added, to “play before their prime minister and to play before their king,” even though it is not clear if King Charles III will attend the parade.
The British prime minister is Rishi Sunak, 43, who, as the leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons, ascended to the top government post last fall.
Koskoski said his band will become aware of the history of the country in which they will perform.
“They’ll be marching on streets that are 2,000 years old,” he noted, referring to the age when Britain was a province in the Roman Empire and London was already an established city.
Besides University High, Koskoski said another Florida school, Key West High, has also been invited to take part in the London parade. In all, he added, the London New Year’s Day Parade organizers have invited about 30 to 40 American high-school bands to perform, in addition to bands from colleges and universities.
The U.S. schools invited, Koskoski said, are not from major cities, but rather from the heartland of the country.
“They like to go to programs that are tucked away around the country,” he noted.
Asked how the UHS band received an invitation to go to London, Koskoski said the London parade’s organizers had known him by name, reputation and the quality of the band program after he had taken Seabreeze High School’s band to England in December 2018. As Seabreeze High’s then-band director, Koskoski recalled, he took the band to the 2019 London New Year’s Day Parade.
“They asked for us. When they found out I was here [at University High], they invited us,” he said. “Because of the previous merits of the band program [at Seabreeze] and the band director, I traveled with them to London.”
As for the musical selections the UHS band will perform in the parade, Koskoski said the Titans will offer the works of “kings and queens and the band Queen.” Those kings include Elvis Presley, celebrated as the “king of rock and roll,” and Aretha Franklin, dubbed “the Queen of Soul.” Koskoski said he and the band have not yet chosen the particular songs they will play in the parade.
As matters now stand, the UHS Titans will leave for England on Dec. 27. Koskoski said the band will fly from Orlando International Airport. So far, the Titan travelers do not yet know which airline they will use, he added, but the choices will probably be British Airways, American or Delta. The band is traveling on regular flights, not on chartered flights, he said.
“It looks as if we’ll be on three airplanes,” Koskoski said.
The transatlantic flight will take nine hours, and Great Britain is five hours ahead of the Eastern U.S. time. Koskoski would not rule out a possible layover in Atlanta if the U.S. airlines fly there to connect with other carriers for the overseas flight.
Koskoski said the UHS band and its supporters are gathering funds for the trip to England, and they are seeing a great deal of community backing. For example, a Rotary Club has donated, and the Orange City Council voted Aug. 22 to give $1,000 from the town’s sponsorship allocation for nonprofit organizations.
“The kids have been able to fundraise. Some of them have taken jobs,” Koskoski said.
Yet, more contributions are needed, and 2024 is only about four months away.
“If people would like to donate, we have a website. Go to www.universityhsband.com,” he said. “There is a button DONATE TO OUR LONDON TRIP.”
“It would help,” Koskoski concluded.